Clay to good soil

Hey all, quick question for you. I have been given the option of purchaing a lot next to me where a house burned down about 6mo ago. I've always wanted a large garden, and orchard, and this seems like the place to do it. The problem is, when they dug out the old house, they filled the 12foot deep hole with solid clay. Is there anyway, short of re-diggingthe hole and filling with good dirt, to reclaim this land? would tilling compost into it do any good? Is there something I can mix into the clay to get it to be better?
Thanks in advance. dave
email: dallyn_spam at yahoo dot com please respond in this NG so others can share your wisdom as well!
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It will be wonderful to have a serious orchard and large garden. I have two examples of clay having been tamed by large amounts of organics, plus certain cover crops which can break soil, plus a few years time.
For the large amounts, I suggest getting several loads of wood chips, about 8 inches over the entire property. Top dress, don't dig in. They will disappear in a few years and will provide most of the nutrients fruit trees need (low N, but large amounts of everything else). The earthworms that will turn them in will churn many times the volume of the chips in clay. In time you may want to add extra fertilizer, and adjust pH and N content, though fruit trees like it somewhat acid and they prefer the nutrient profile that wood chips provide - so you may not need any amendment (grapes are one of several exceptions). Wood chips are cost-free, weed-free and fertilize. Their drawback is that they will act more slowly than leaves or manure, and fertilize less than manure, but all things considered (specially the tree company taking the chips directly to your place free) wood chips can't be beat for massive mulching of perennials.
For the cover crops, which you can plant for a few years as your trees develop, I suggest potatoes, favas, mache, and chicories for the edibles, and if you want just a green manure, a number of green manures will also break the soil efficiently. These are plants that are particularly agressive at penetrating clay, leaving all sorts of dug-in organic matter, in small and big clumps, that will further entice earthworms, provide drainage, etc.. favas and other legume cover crops will provide N as well. There are other crops, like carrots or beets, which also break the soil, but the final product is not particularly attractive (poor carrots). I found chicories to be incredibly aggressive in a patch filled with one foot of clay on sand in my lawn (I used the seeds from a few radicchio plants gone to seed), sending a thick taproot down several feet (which you don't eat but is a bitch to uproot), very much like dandelions, but a much thicker root. The patch is now (five years later) much nicer, I would go as far as calling it loamy.
For the time, Rome was not built in a day. I have had for seven years a jostaberry plant (which prefers heavy soil), in sandy soil, at the fence with my neighbor. The neighbor soil is all grey clay (he filled the yard for the horses). In time the soil under the jostaberry has become much heavier and if you were to see that spreading bush you would never guess that it was a pitiful thing five years ago. In time, where you have plant or mulch cover, the soil will mix vertically a lot but also laterally somewhat.
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snipped-for-privacy@my-deja.com (simy1) wrote:

And don't forget the earthworms.......
K.
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http://www.google.com/search?as_q=chicory&as_sitesearch=burpee.com http://www.google.com/search?as_q=endive&as_sitesearch=burpee.com
Searching for endive turns up a bigger selection at Burpee.
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Build a raised bed. You only need a foot or two of good soil, and a raised bed is easier to care for for water and weeding imho.
All of my beds are raised as I'm on caliche and limestone...
and my gardens are fine. :-)
Good luck!
K.
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So you're in San Antonio too? ;-)
Tyler
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Nearby... ;-) San Marcos.
K.
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I live on the farthest north side of S.A. at the beginning of the Hill Country. I think the deepest soil I have is about 12". Then solid limestone.
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Sounds familiar... <lol> Hence the raised beds. Works well!
K.
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On Wed, 14 Jul 2004 01:40:17 -0500, Katra

I thought of that, but the area of clay is about 40 feet by 80 feet. Raised beds would be more expensive than I wanted. Also, I was looking for some fruit trees, and would still have to deal with the clay below.
dave
email: dallyn_spam at yahoo dot com please respond in this NG so others can share your wisdom as well!
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Better rent a backhoe then.... ;-)
K.
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